WEEKLY PRAYER: MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

Today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we pray with the minister and civil rights activist for peace and enemy love.

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God, we thank you for the inspiration of Jesus. Grant that we will love you with all our hearts, souls, and minds, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, even our enemy neighbors. And we ask you, God, in these days of emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, to be with us in our going out and our coming in, in our rising up and in our lying down, in our moments of joy and in our moments of sorrow, until the day when there shall be no sunset and no dawn.

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The Way Up Is Down by Marlena Graves


This week I’m thrilled to share an (adapted) excerpt from Marlena Graves’s book, The Way Up Is Down. You may have already heard about this book: it was published in July 2020 and won a 2021 Christianity Today Award of Merit. I wanted to draw attention to it because it is such an important read for our contemplative community. In the first few pages, Marlena quotes Teresa of Avila, and then she goes on to dialogue with other historical and contemplative figures like Macrina the Younger, Saint Benedict, and the church fathers.

Above all, Marlena goes deep into Scripture to teach us about emptying ourselves and embracing a life of following Jesus. Enjoy this excerpt from chapter two of The Way Up Is Down.

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Down Low With Jesus

None of us knows what we don’t know unless our eyes are opened. My first revelation was the cafeteria lunch ticket. It was on display for all to see when I handed it to the lunch lady. No way to be discrete. Its bright color marked me as eligible for a free lunch.

Sometimes sheer embarrassment over being known as poor kept me from eating lunch. My free lunch ticket: a stigma. Of course, if I were really hungry and knew I’d return home to an empty refrigerator when I stepped off of the school bus, I swallowed my pride and presented the lunch ticket. More indications.

Upon returning from Puerto Rico in fifth grade, someone derogatorily asked, “Are you black?” Until then, I didn’t know I looked different from others. Now, as a bleached out biracial Puerto Rican, I am blanquita. Then, I was darker. As a child and teenager, I didn’t know I had an accent until my best friend’s mother told me I did. Now, I am told I have no accent.

However, it was as an employee at a Christian college that I became acutely aware of the economic, cultural, and racial disparity in my environments. It was at the Christian college that I learned how underprivileged I was.

After Brenda Salter-McNeil, a thought leader in the area of racial reconciliation, led a large room full of people in an activity dubbed the “Race Race,” everything made sense. The starting line was masking tape laid down across the middle of an all-purpose classroom. Dr. Salter-McNeil asked a series of questions like: Did you go to summer camps? Did your parents attend college? Did you qualify for free and reduced lunches? Are you a woman? and Are you an ethnic minority? Our answers determined whether we took steps forward or backward. At the end of fifty questions, I was at the back of the room with one of my best friends, an African American woman. Almost dead last. Way behind the starting line, not to mention the finish line.

When everyone turned to see who was last, I stood there humiliated. This time my answers to the questions, not my lunch ticket, exposed me as a have not. Until then I had no idea how underprivileged I was. I thought I was doing well. However, even though my ethnicity, gender, and economic status of my family of origin were not under my control, they affected everything. I can’t escape the facts of my life even with lunch money and a refrigerator full of groceries. I was born into last place or nearly last place. Even with the privileges I have now, I’ll never be able to catch up with those who started ahead of me. That day, I discovered that even with my education and ability to think, fundamentally, I was still on society’s and the American church’s bottom of the pecking order. I was a bottom dweller.

Growing up and even into my adulthood, I despaired over the hand I was dealt. I often begged God to explain why the cards were stacked against me as a Hispanic-Latina woman born into a poor family that was plagued by the effects of mental illness. I used to despair a lot, but not as much anymore. Yes, there are instances. But I don’t remain in self-pity for long stretches of time. On these occasions I am reminded that the gospel is especially good news for the poor, people on the lowest rungs of society, people like me and my family of origin. God gives grace to the humble. Though I am haunted by the effects of generational poverty, though I may have been born on the lowest rung in America, in many ways I am rich.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:3 (KJV). People like me and my kind may be deemed poor and stupid and not worthy of a second glance. Animals to be caged. Not worthy to be anybody’s teacher. But if your poverty and my poverty and deprivation (whatever form poverty takes in our lives) produce in us poverty of spirit, if our humiliations produce in us humility and dependence on God, then we shall be exalted now—in our lives with God—and in the life to come.

Rich.

These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word. (Isaiah 66:2) When I remember what is true, instead of obsessing about non-truth or the hierarchies and idols associated with money, power, and fame, I can rejoice.

I am bidding farewell to worldly status. Along with Mary and Jesus, I am throwing my lot in with others who by the world’s standards are disinherited and found at the bottom of all the hierarchies. Because I’ve found that God turns our hierarchies and our worldly values on their heads. It is only in our poverty and our intentional renunciation of worldly status seeking—in emptying ourselves of those ambitions—that we are ever open to being filled to the brim with grace. We cannot become full of God’s life when we are chasing status, recognition, and honor from the world or the Christian culture—that only leads us to outer darkness. Like Jesus, we are to seek the lowest place and figure out exactly what that means for our particular lives. So, with Mary I marvel and sing:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call
me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of
their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
(Luke 1:46-53 ESV)

If we humble ourselves by seeking the lowest place, we will be exalted. God will fill those of us who are hungry and empty and poor with good things as we look to him to feed us and fill us.


Adapted from The Way Up Is Down  by Marlena Graves. Copyright © 2020 by Marlena Graves. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com  

A PRAYER FOR THE NEW YEAR FROM HOWARD THURMAN

As we ring in the new year, let’s pray with Howard Thurman, the 20th-century theologian, mystic, and civil rights leader.

***

Through the Coming Year

Grant that I may pass through
The coming year with a faithful heart.

There will be much to test me and to make weak my strength before the year ends. In my confusion I shall often say the word that is not true and do the thing of which I am ashamed. There will be errors of the mind and great inaccuracies of judgement which shall render me the victim of my own stupidities. In seeking the light, I shall again and again find myself walking in darkness. I shall mistake my light for Thy light and I shall shrink from the responsibility of the choice I make.  All of these things, and more, will be true for me because I have not yet learned how to keep my hand in Thy hand.

Nevertheless, grant that I may pass through the coming year with a faithful heart. May I never give the approval of my heart to error, to falseness, to weakness, to vainglory, to sin. Though my days be marked with failures, stumblings, fallings, let my spirit be free so that Thou mayset take it and redeem my moments in all the ways my needs reveal.  Give me the quiet assurance of Thy Love and Thy Presence.

Grant than I may pass through
The coming year with a faithful heart.

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FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome back to Friday Favorites! The new year has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start, but we hope you will still find joy in Jesus, in your faith, and in community. We find community partly through listening to one another and sharing our experiences, and with that in mind, we hope you’ll enjoy the roundup of posts below.

Love,

Lisa and Prasanta

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Pray Every Day: Isaiah 10 via Mary DeMuth (on this podcast, Mary prays us through the Bible every day; today, listen to Isaiah 10)

Keep Your Lights Up via Aarik Danielsen (a plea to leave your Christmas lights up for as long as you need)

The Gate of Heaven Is Everywhere via Fred Bahnson (perhaps the contemplative tradition is what’s missing from American Christianity)

Yeats’ The Magi (and a poem of mine) via Malcolm Guite (to mark Epiphany, listen to Malcolm read Yeats’ poem)

On the Streets Where They Lived via Eleanor Parker (the more you learn about the history that’s all around you, the more companionship you will find)

Resolved to Write a Nonfiction Book This Year? Let’s Do the Math! via Ann Kroeker (you can write your book this year)


A BLESSING FOR EPIPHANY

The Feast of Epiphany is Wednesday, January 6. Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Christ to the world, as epitomized by the visit of the Magi. This week, we have a blessing for Epiphany.

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God has called you out of darkness,
into his wonderful light.
May you experience his kindness and blessings,
and be strong in faith, in hope, and in love.

Because you are followers of Christ,
who appeared on this day as a light shining in darkness,
may he make you a light to all your sisters and brothers.

The wise men followed the star,
and found Christ who is light from light.
May you too find the Lord
when your pilgrimage is ended.

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An Advent Prayer by Karl Rhaner

This week’s Advent prayer is from Karl Rhaner, S.J. (1904 – 1984), a German Jesuit priest and theologian.

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Now God says to us
What He has already said to the earth as a whole
Through His grace-filled birth:

I am there. I am with you.
I am your life. I am your time.
I am the gloom of your daily routine. Why will you not hear it?
I weep your tears – pour yours out to me.
I am your joy.
Do not be afraid to be happy; ever since I wept, joy is the standard of living
That is really more suitable than the anxiety and grief of those who have no hope.

I am the blind alley of all your paths,
For when you no longer know how to go any farther,
Then you have reached me,
Though you are not aware of it.

I am in your anxiety, for I have shared it.
I am in the prison of your finiteness,
For my love has made me your prisoner.

I am in your death,
For today I began to die with you, because I was born,
And I have not let myself be spared any real part of this experience.

I am present in your needs;
I have suffered them and they are now transformed.

I am there.
I no longer go away from this world.
Even if you do not see me now, I am there.

My love is unconquerable.
I am there.
It is Christmas.
Light the Candles! They have more right to exist then all the darkness.
It is Christmas.
Christmas that lasts forever.

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FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Happy Friday, everyone! For Friday Favorites, we have a collection of Advent posts for you to savor as we wait the last, long week before the Christmas feast. We wish you a joyous season and all of God’s blessings.

Love,

Lisa and Prasanta

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A Global Advent Calendar via#AdventWord (join an international community in prayer to explore the mystery and wonder of Advent)

Wait of Glory via Nichole Woo (an Advent prayer based on Luke 3:25-38)

God Struck a Match via Maggie Wallem Rowe (what happened 2000 years ago was revolutionary–incendiary, even)

Advent and the Burning Bush via Phoebe Farag Mikhail (a Coptic Orthodox Advent tradition and the mingling of cultures)

Advent and the Trees via Rob Ebbens (a poem and reflection on the weight of waiting)

Mary, Martha, and My Holiday Kitchen via Carlene Hill Byron (kitchens, baking, and doing what matters)

When God’s Work Feels Too Small & Slow via Emotionally Healthy Leader Podcast (Advent doesn’t feel very hopeful or expectant this pandemic year…)


A Posadas Prayer for Advent

Las Posadas is a tradition among Spanish-speaking people that reenacts the journey of Joseph and Mary as they sought shelter in Bethlehem. Following is a traditional Posadas prayer.

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Divine and eternal Word, who descended from the Father into the heart of the ever Virgin Mary, your love for humankind leads you to Bethlehem where you are born at midnight in a poor and humble stable.

In truth, thousands of angels accompany you on this journey, and yet we, whom you came to save and lead to that Bethlehem of eternal joy, stubbornly turn away from you.

Forgive us, God and Lord of the universe, and help us to walk alongside Mary and Joseph, thus giving us the courage to fight against and triumph over every adversity. Amen.

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Learning to Pray in the Dark: A Post via Prasanta Verma

I’m going to be honest with you.

I’m quite new to liturgical readings and practices. I didn’t grow up in a tradition (hello Baptist Deep South!) that followed a liturgical calendar. The word “Advent” was not part of my Christmas vocabulary, and if you had used the word “Compline”, I might have thought you were awkwardly trying to pay me a compliment. I am learning about liturgical practices only now, as an adult.

I am also new to the Book of Common Prayer. I could not pass a quiz about it, and I hardly know what to do with it. But I am delving in, as well as reading a book called Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren, to be released in January 2021.* I was drawn to the book’s description and hooked by this question: “How can we trust God in the dark?” I knew I wanted to read more, and as it turns out, the book is framed around a nighttime prayer of Compline.

I have read others’ testimonies of how the prayers of the saints gave them the language of prayer when they needed it in their own lives. Perhaps that is another reason I was drawn to this book. What I have been lacking in my own faith life just might be the voices and steady faith and prayers of past believers who clung tightly to these words and practices.

I used to reason that I would not like the repetition of such prayers, and thought I would find it dull and devoid of the spirit and life. Those were thoughts, however, I had when I was much younger, before I had any inkling I would be fumbling through my own paths of darkness and wilderness and not able to pray. For those who grew up in a liturgical tradition, the prayers may have helped you find the way when it could not be found. Perhaps it was a respite to draw upon the familiarity of the offices, and give you the words you needed.

For someone like me, who does not have the background and experience of these prayers, and though the comfort of familiarity does not exist, perhaps it is a means by which I may learn to pray again. These prayers offered by others give me a hope of authenticity that a Person is there, listening, behind my present veil of darkness. Nothing is familiar in the dark; a familiar landscape can look like an alien planet at midnight. We can’t see who is there and who isn’t, only shapes and shadows and mysteries, so I find myself siphoning strength from a congregation of believers who came before me as I stumble along.

“When we’re drowning we need a lifeline, and our lifeline in grief cannot be mere optimism…We need practices that don’t simply palliate our fears or pain, but that teach us to walk with God in the crucible of our own fragility,” Warren writes. These words resonate with me. Maybe this is what I have been missing. Not that having such practices or tradition would prevent any dark nights of the soul—no, not at all—but that now it may help bring me back, lighting my footpath in the dark. Like Advent candles lit week by week, maybe this is the path of light pointing toward hope during this walk in the wilderness.

*I paid for and pre-ordered the book, requested to join the launch team, and was provided with an advance digital copy to read. This post is not being solicited by the launch team or book publishers, and I am writing my own thoughts and opinions out of my own personal experience.


Prasanta Verma, a poet, writer, and artist, is a member of The Contemplative Writer team. Born under an Asian sun, raised in the Appalachian foothills, Prasanta currently lives in the Midwest, is a mom of three, and also coaches high school debate. You can find her on Twitter @VermaPrasanta, Instagram prasanta_v_writer, and at her website: https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/.

WEEKLY PRAYER: WALTER BRUEGGEMANN

This week’s Advent prayer is from the theologian and author Walter Brueggemann.

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In our secret yearnings
we wait for your coming,
and in our grinding despair
we doubt that you will.

And in this privileged place
we are surrounded by witnesses who yearn more than do we
and by those who despair more deeply than  do we.

Look upon your church and its pastors
in this season of hope
which runs so quickly to fatigue
and in this season of yearning
which becomes so easily quarrelsome.

Give us the grace and the impatience
to wait for your coming to the bottom of our toes,
to the edges of our finger tips.

We do not want our several worlds to end.

Come in your power
and come in your weakness
in any case
and make all things new.

Amen.

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